This quintessential Maritime fishing town has a charming heritage centre that you won’t want to miss. Old Town looks like a decorated tiered cake with homes, painted in vibrant colours, climbing the hill above the harbour. All types of boats fill in the berths, from working fishing boats to historical sailing boats. This is Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
One of the places that we really wanted to visit on Our Great Canadian Roadtrip was the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. After visiting the iconic Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse we excitedly continued our drive to this colourful historic town.
Nothing compares to the amount and variety of colourful houses you’ll see when exploring Old Town Lunenburg. Street after street in this heritage area is filled with brightly painted wooden homes that climb up and down the hills above the busy harbour. Lunenburg is a great place to spend the day with no real objective other than to admire the well maintained 250 year-old homes.
The town was established in 1753 and still retains the look of a typical British Colonial town from that era. The organized grid pattern of streets lets you know it wasn’t haphazardly designed. Old Town Lunenburg is considered one of the best examples of a planned colonial town in North America. Because of this and the excellent condition of the wooden heritage homes, it received UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Most of the buildings are privately owned and with the UNESCO status homeowners must adhere to strict guidelines for appropriate historical restoration.
In addition to colourful homes, there are many churches in Old Town. St. John’s Anglican Church was the first church established in Lunenburg in 1753 and is the second oldest Anglican Church in Nova Scotia. Its large gothic-style steeples were added in the 1800s. Down the street is a church with an interesting steeple. Instead of a cross on its roof, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church has a cod fish on its weather vane. Some say it’s because in this Nova Scotia fishing town, ‘Cod is King’.
After admiring the homes in Old Town, wander down to the harbour where the piers are filled with sailing and fishing boats. The most notable of these is Bluenose II. The original Bluenose schooner was built in Lunenburg in 1921. At the time it was the fastest racing and fishing ship in the world. For 17 years it remained undefeated in the International Fishermen’s Race and earned the title “Queen of the North Atlantic”. Its success resulted in the schooner being a beloved symbol for Canadians. Wrecked at Sea in 1946, Bluenose continues to be adored and has been pictured on Canada’s dime, 10 cent coin, every year since 1937.
Bluenose II, harboured in Lunenburg, is a replica of the original. It is mostly used to promote the province of Nova Scotia by visiting port cities in North America.
On the historic waterfront we found more colourful wooden heritage buildings. They would have been used as warehouses and for shipbuilding. From the piers you can look up and see the colourful homes of Old Town climbing the hill.
To fully appreciate the beauty of Lunenburg, we went searching for the best viewpoints. We narrowed down our top two spots. The first one is above town on Shore Road. From there we had an awesome view of the colourful buildings and the historic harbour. An even more impressive viewpoint though, is across the bay on Tannery Row. This viewpoint was the perfect spot to see the tiers of brightly painted homes climbing up above the busy historic harbour.
How to get to Lunenburg
The nearest airport is in Halifax, 100 km away. You could drive direct to Lunenburg on Highways #103 and #324 but we suggest making a few stops at Peggy’s Cove and Mahone Bay (coming soon) on the way.
Where to stay and eat
There are several hotels and Bed & Breakfasts in Lunenburg or nearby Mahone Bay. Both towns also have many restaurants and cafes to chose from with a variety of specialties.
Coming Next – Mahone Bay & Blue Rocks – Nova Scotia’s Hidden Gems
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